Well-intentioned parents often make damaging mistakes, unknowingly, while trying to help their teens with OCD.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a neuro-psychiatric disorder that affects roughly one in every 200 teens. In time and with proper treatment, it can be managed successfully, but too many parents inadvertently make mistakes that cause the symptoms to get worse, not better.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Melissa Mose, specializes in working with OCD, and she has helped many teens during her, over twenty year, career. In addition to her professional experience she is mother to a teenage girl with OCD which gives her an added insight in understanding the real life, ‘day in/day out’ challenges parents and their children with OCD encounter.
Melissa Mose laid out some of the most common mistakes parents make with their children after a diagnosis of OCD.
Mistake #1: “Why can’t you just stop?”
While it’s an easy enough mistake to make, Mose cautions against using language that suggests that a person with OCD could just choose to stop doing compulsions. Mose points out that, “if a parent tells their child that doing everything twice in order to prevent something bad from happening just isn’t logical, they are, of course, right. But it doesn’t matter because the person with OCD already knows that.”
They already know that they don’t need to or even want to wash or check or count but stopping is too painful. OCD is frustrating for everyone and remembering that it’s not rational is sometimes difficult. When comments are made that suggest a person should understand that their compulsions are unnecessary, it is extremely insulting to that person with OCD.
It seems to imply that the person is weak or lazy and that is the farthest thing from the truth. Individuals with OCD are working far harder just to get through the day than anyone else can imagine.
Mose suggests that parents try to keep in mind that this is a problem that has to do with brain chemistry not effort, intelligence or impulse control. Instead, she says that parents should be honest when they are baffled by the behavior, but also communicate that they understand it is very real and very upsetting to the person who has it.
Parents may want to say something like, “It’s hard for me to understand why you need to do this, but I get that you do.” Offering an apology as well can go a long way too. Saying something along the lines of, “I’m sorry. This must make you crazy when I say this. I know you would stop if you could” can have a very positive effect.
Mistake #2: Doing too much for your child
Many experts will tell you that you should not do things for your children that they can do for themselves. This happens in a couple of different ways with OCD. Mose explains that “if you are a parent you know that sometimes it is far easier to do the chores yourself than to wait for, fight with and badger your children to do them. That impulse is even stronger for parents of children with OCD because sometimes waiting for a child to get dressed may take hours.”
She says, “It is easy to slip into opening doors for children who want to avoid having to wash their hands afterwards or working around situations that may cause extreme anxiety.” Mose explains that, “when parents try too hard to protect a child from suffering, their efforts can actually prevent the child with OCD from getting better.”
The other way parents may try too hard is “when they are working harder at the OCD therapy than the teen with OCD is working.” This is the other side of the coin from accommodating the OCD by participating in compulsions.
In this case the parent is trying too hard to get their child to resist OCD.Parents may watch and wait for and comment on every little compulsion. In both of these ways, parents try too hard to help, and it gets in the way.
Mistake #3: Expressing your own frustration about the OCD in inappropriate ways.
It is never just the child with OCD that is affected by this disorder. The entire family is taken along for the wild ride. It is quite understandably a very frustrating situation to be in, even when your child is in therapy.
Mose shares that, “while it’s helpful and supportive to express your anger with the OCD, it doesn’t help to be angry with your child.” OCD doesn’t generally improve in a straight line. Mose said, “Often, the progression goes a few steps forward and a few steps back, so exercising patience is of utmost importance.”
That is why having realistic goals is so important. Many parents want a timeline for how long therapy will take and when they will see results. That’s understandable because the whole family is being impacted, but expecting it to change instantly is definitely a mistake and it increases pressure and stress.
Another thing that parents may do when their own frustration gets the better of them is to use the teen’s fears against them. Parents may threaten to mess up a room or bring a contaminant into the living area hoping that fear will motivate their teen to try harder. This almost always backfires. She says that parents should, “remember to support the child, but fight the OCD, not the other way around.”
Whether you’ve made any of these mistakes or not, the thing to keep in mind is not to be too hard on yourself. “It’s all about repair. There is a lot of learning that can happen when we make mistakes, and that learning is invaluable.”
From that, kids learn that people make mistakes, and when you make a mistake you apologize, and then you try not to make the same mistakes again.
If your child has OCD, you’ll want to do everything in your power to avoid making these hurtful and damaging mistakes.
To find out how to better help children & teens with OCD visit Melissa Mose’s website for more useful information and resources for both teens and the whole family: http://www.melissamosemft.com/resources